February 25, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Bing, Cockrel to square off: Voters to choose one for Detroit mayor in May

Businessman Dave Bing, left, and Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. are set to face off May 5 to be Detroit's next elected mayor. (The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- Businessman Dave Bing and Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. will face off May 5 to become mayor. And the votes were barely counted Tuesday before the gloves came off.

With all precincts reporting, Bing had 29 percent and Cockrel 27 percent, with former Deputy Mayor Freman Hendrix at 23 percent. Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans led the rest of the pack at 10 percent. Tuesday's balloting kicks off four mayoral elections -- including an August primary and November general for the four-year term -- and it's shaping up as a doozy.

During his victory speech to 250 supporters at the Atheneum Suites in Greektown, Cockrel took a swipe at Bing for moving from a gated community in Franklin to Detroit for the contest. Cockrel said there are "no iron gates" separating him from the city.

"Money can't buy you a record of public service" said Cockrel, who became mayor in September when Kwame Kilpatrick resigned in disgrace and went to jail. "Money can't buy you the knowledge to turn this city around."

Cockrel challenged Bing to debate every week until the election. Bing refused, saying he won't share the stage until Cockrel releases his personal finances. Bing, a retired Detroit Piston and owner of Bing Steel, set the tone for the 15-candidate field two months ago by releasing financial statements showing he made $870,000 in 2007.

"He has another opportunity to come forward tomorrow," Bing told a crowd of more than 150 people at the Doubletree Fort Shelby Hotel. "Until he decides to tell the whole truth about his finances, then and only then will I debate."

Cockrel's spokesman, Jim Edmondson, said the campaign will "focus on the city's finances and not our own. This campaign will not be won on wealth, but issues."

Hendrix, who trailed most of the campaign in his effort to avenge his 2005 loss to Kilpatrick, said he may call it a career.

"I don't think I am going to be running for office anymore," Hendrix said.

"This was my last shot. If it was meant to be, it would have been tonight."

Turnout was 15 percent. Of that tally, about 40 percent cast absentee ballots. Hendrix courted them strenuously, but finished third among those voters. Cockrel, whose campaign spent substantially on direct mail ads and phone bank calls, led the pack with 32 percent of the absentee field.

Of the seven major candidates, former City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail, state Rep. Coleman A. Young II and former Councilman Nicholas Hood III each drew 2-4 percent of the total vote. McPhail, the city's former general counsel under Kilpatrick, said her loss wasn't a surprise.

"At least now Detroiters have a clear choice," McPhail said. "There are two very different people."

Bing, 64, was the front-runner for most of the race after going public with criticism of Kilpatrick last year at a time when most business leaders were silent. Drawing on support from the business sector -- and key figures such as Detroit NAACP Branch President the Rev. Wendell Anthony -- Bing led all candidates with fundraising, collecting about $800,000. His wife said she'd move to Detroit if Bing advanced.

Cockrel, 43, who began his career as a reporter but followed his late father's footsteps into elected office, kept pace. He raised about $500,000, enjoying the power of incumbency but occasionally suffering from it. He was praised for setting an ethical tone, but criticized for moving too slowly to shore up the city's $300 million deficit.

A sampling of 30 precincts shows that Bing and Cockrel's paths to victory varied.

Bing dominated Cockrel by a 2-1 margin in several precincts in and around the upscale University District. Cockrel was most successful in the voting precinct that encompassed the Woodbridge Historic District, where he has lived with his family for more than a decade. In East English Village, considered one of the city's most solid middle class neighborhoods, the vote was more evenly split among the leading candidates.

"It doesn't surprise me it was this close here," said Bing supporter Sarah Kleiner. "Everyone has strong opinions. This is Detroit."

In a city weary from the Kilpatrick scandal, residents seemed more interested in getting through a harsh Michigan winter than who would fill the remainder of Kilpatrick's term. Turnout, which was predicted at 11-15 percent, didn't surpass expectations. In 2005, 21.5 percent cast ballots in the primary.

Mark Grebner, founder of Michiganliberal.com who conducted extensive polling on the race, said voters are mostly content and don't have major issues drawing them to the polls.

"The problem is nobody is afraid of the outcome of the election," Grebner said. "They have nothing to fear."

Grebner predicted interest will grow for the May election.

So far, though, no one running to succeed Kilpatrick is riveting, said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics.

"These are really shop-worn candidates and even Dave Bing hasn't excited anyone," he said. "There is also exhaustion from the Kilpatrick wars."

On Tuesday, voters in the city considered six bond proposals that could raise as much as $263 million for capital improvements that range from police stations to libraries. They approved five, but rejected one for fixing government buildings.

The cycle of so many elections has taken its toll on residents, but that didn't deter those like Alena Bazile. She called it "ridiculous" that the city has four elections this year.

She and her husband, Bruce, voted at Martin Luther King High School on the city's east side. Bazile, 30, said she voted for Cockrel because he's liked what he's done so far as leader of the city.

"I believe he's done a good job," said Bazile.

Rob Young, 48, a boiler operator, said he voted for Bing but was not surprised there was such voter apathy.

"They have other things on their mind. Most people are worried about the economy," he said. "They aren't worried about the election."

You can reach David Josar at (313) 222-2073 or djosar@detnews.com">djosar@detnews.com. News staff writers Darren A. Nichols, Steve Pardo, Catherine Jun, Christine MacDonald and Christine Ferretti contributed to this report.

Dorothy King, who has worked for the Election Commission for more than 20 ... (Velvet S. McNeil The Detroit News)
Alice Lamont, left, turns in her vote, helped by Geraldine Bank at St ... (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)
Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., left, and candidate Duane Montgomery ... (Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News)